March 5, 2015

(434) 791-7981 godanriver.com

The three Dan River Region female business leaders that spoke during the first We Lead: Women Empowered discussion minimized the role of their sex in their careers.

The first event in the Danville Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce series, “The Road to the Top,” featured Averett University President Tiffany Franks, Ikea Danville Factory Manager Ildiko Furjesova and Virginia International Raceway

On the day after the historic, all-female Sweet Briar College announced it will close, the three businesswomen reflected on their personal journey but without much regard to unique aspects of being a member of the female sex.

Instead the women framed values and morals that have been essential to their careers. From respecting and supporting local talent to living a fulfilling and adventurous life, the three women shared pieces of advice and glimpses into their unique backgrounds.

“I didn’t say yes to Averett in order to lead, I said yes to Averett in order to serve,” Franks said. “There is nothing wrong with being ambitious, but if ambition is in order to lead you’ll be sorely disappointed.”

Franks emphasized many guiding principles, like the need to serve. She encouraged the attendees to be themselves and not let others overwhelm the inner voice. Embracing individual uniqueness is essential for Franks’ ideology. She offered some practical tips and share the most remarks about womanhood in the workplace.

“Be really aware of your own weak spots and put others around you that can complement you,” she said. “Always know the audience, always know where the power is. Always know what the agendas are.”

Finding a mentor is a key to success in Franks’ opinion. Their guidance can make up for the shortfalls that undoubtedly will happen in a career path. Women can return the favor to society by becoming a model in their own right.

“Use the uniqueness of your womanhood to influence change and to inspire others,” Franks said. “Accept that some men will never accept women in leadership roles. It’s hard to imagine that, but it’s true. That’s their problem. So just push on, lead and be bold.”

Franks shared some of her past, too. She called her experience as a youngster as average with average grades and an average social life. She was rejected by her first choice college, but the upset didn’t stop her momentum. She recalls making a point of saying yes to opportunities.

VIR’s Nyholm and Ikea’s Furjesova credited their upbringing and roots as some of the most important building blocks to their current career.

“What I got, I got from my family,” Furjesova said. She listed honesty, transparency, openness, respect, family and hard work as the ethical pillars for her life.

Furjesova, who knows the names of each of the 420 or so Ikea employees in Danville, finds the values in the plants’ workforce. Posting a photo for each, she pointed out the qualities of workers.

There’s Linda who greets Furjesova with an “I love you” every morning, teaching willingness to love. Kevin has a winning attitude, seeking optimization of skills and circumstances. Robert has a sense of urgency, showing eagerness to accomplish any and all tasks. The list went on.

“A lone wolf will never work,” Furjesova said.

Collaborating and uniting toward one goals requires acknowledgement of each member’s role.

“Don’t play the role that you are not. You are the mother,” she stated.

Furjesova shared that any obstacle she has found has been one of her own creation. Those hurdles are overcome easily with the right attitude.

“On my journey, I am my limitation,” she said. “If I believe and I know what I want to get, I get it.”

The negative thinking that clouds everyone’s mind is something she has struggled with in her career. She developed the strategy of mentally “deleting” the thoughts like deleting old computer files or junk emails.

For Nyholm, her life was changed when she shed the negative aspects of her lifestyle that held her back. She explained that as a young girl, she was regularly mocked for her weight.

When I was young, I was really fat. People made a lot of fun of me. I had to come out of my shell and deal with that.

This girl sat next to me…she said ‘You know, you’re pretty cool if you weren’t so fat,’” Nyholm recalled. That was enough to prompt her to diet and lose weight, changing her approach on life

“It’s just weird things that make an input in your life,” she added.

Some of the less unusual inputs came from her family, who early in her life struggled financially. Eventually things turned around for them and a wide array of experiences from world travel to tobacco farm work shaped her adventurous, thrill-seeking mind.

“There’s lots of adventures out there if you keep your minds and your eyes open,” she said, recommending travel to the audience.

Nyholm started Virginia International Raceway with no knowledge of racetracks, but straightforward business goals helped her grow the business. For her to start a business, it needs positive cash flow in three years and benefit two community businesses.

The 320-employee VIR is run with the mindset of a tenant rather than a landlord. Thinking from that perspective helps improve the business operations. Business doesn’t come without wrinkles, but Nyholm seeks solutions.

“If you have a problem, we’ll work it together,” Nyholm said. “But bring at least your recommendation, because you’re the expert with experience in the problem you’re bringing for me to help you with. And bring a fallback position in case I don’t like your idea.”

That can-do attitude translates to diving in deep into experiences for Nyholm. Beyond traveling, Nyholm said that two years of community service is beneficial to everyone who can afford the opportunity. She encouraged the audience to expose themselves to new things regularly, constantly scaring yourself with something fresh.

“You just need to stretch and grow,” she said.

This is just the first event of the Women Empowered series. There will be five more events held bimonthly that will cover many aspects of the women work experience. The events are designed to encourage and inspire women of the Dan River Region.

Morrison reports for the Danville Register & Bee.